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Two-thirds of you want to return a Christmas present. So what are your options?

It very much depends on why you’re bringing it back, says Áine Carroll of CCPC.
Jan 16th 2019, 8:30 PM 10,278 12

IF YOU HAVE A box of unwanted items lurking somewhere in your home as a result of an unfortunate Christmas present, you’re definitely not the only one. 

When we asked readers about their returning habits in an informal survey earlier in the month, two-thirds admitted that they received a Christmas present last month that they’d like to return.

For Áine Carroll, director of communications and policy at the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), it’s unfortunately not a surprising figure: 

Every year, we’d receive a fairly large volume in January that relate to sales and Christmas presents – last year we had 13% more calls than at any other month of the year.

As almost half of those surveyed (47.5%) said that they’ve returned something both online and in-store, it’s important that we get it right. And at the moment, there are very clear gaps in our awareness of our rights when it comes to return.

For example, over half of respondents (56%) did not know that you’re not entitled to return something in-store simply because of a change of mind. Often a question that CCPC get asked, Carroll explains how a ‘change of mind’ works in practice:

If for example, you buy clothes or shoes that don’t fit, that’s a ‘change of mind’ and in those circumstances circumstances you do not have a right to return under consumer law.

Though many retailers do accept returns (their returns policy will usually be listed on their receipts), “this is the shop’s policy and it’s very important that consumers understand this”, says Carroll.

For this reason, she reminds that it’s very important to ask before you buy an item, especially if it’s during a sale: “Some shops will change their returns policy during sales – making the return time shorter or offering no returns – they’re entitled to do this.”

So, what am I entitled to?

In short, that completely depends on the item that you’re trying to return, says Carroll. Essentially, if it’s because there’s a fault with the item, “you’re entitled to the full price you paid, a replacement or a repair.” This does not change with sales – something that only that less than half (40%) of respondents realised. 

So, what happens if you’ve lost the receipt? Almost three quarters of respondents (74%) said that you need a receipt to return an item in all cases. However, if the item is being returned as it’s faulty, this technically isn’t always the case, explains Carroll:

Though a business is entitled to seek proof of purchase, the legislation doesn’t mention a receipt. So for faults you can sometimes use packaging barcodes and debit and credit card statements as proof.

Importantly, this does not cover a change of mind – “most shop policies do say that if you bring it back with a receipt within a certain time, you can have a refund so it’s made explicit that you need it.”

Similarly, one reader had been told when returning an item for a change of mind that they didn’t offer credit notes, only an exchange -  something that’s very much allowed under consumer law, explains Carroll:

If it’s for a change of mind rather than a faulty item, a shop is always entitled to determine what it’s going to give you.

Are there items that I can’t return?

Unfortunately, a few of our readers had received tickets to events that they didn’t want to go to as gifts and these items are one of the few that you cannot return. While items bought over the phone or online usually entitle you to 14 days to cancel, this does not apply for tickets for an event on a specific day:

It’s stipulated in the legislation that you have no right to return and get a refund in terms of the law – there’s really nothing they can do in this situation. 

Several of those surveyed had questions about earphones that they had received at Christmas. Unlike other electronics, the returns situation with these can include additional rules in the case of a ‘change of mind’:

Retailers need goods to come back in the same condition so that they’re able to resell and sometimes for hygiene reasons they cannot let you return them.

You can find a full list of items that do not have a right to return when shopping online here, which also include the likes of customised or perishable goods, swimwear and underwear and reservations for cars, hotels or holiday homes for a specific period of time. 

And what’s the story with gift vouchers?

Confusion around gift voucher policies often results in calls to CCPC – indeed, over half (52%) of those surveyed had experienced trying to use a gift voucher only to find that it had expired. 

Carroll shares that some of the other common issues around this include loss of the voucher, unexpected charges (38%) and problems with the terms and conditions (23%). For example, vouchers for airlines insist that the name on the voucher must match the passport.

What’s important about gift vouchers is that their terms and conditions are made clear to the buyer, as Carroll explains using a recent example that the consumer was entitled to dispute:

We’d a recent call about a voucher that had no expiry date on it but the consumer was then told it had a four month window. As it wasn’t made clear, she couldn’t have agreed to that condition.

Outside of this, unfortunately if a gift voucher has expired “you can try to negotiate with a business but they have no obligation to do anything”. Essentially, it’s very important if you get a gift voucher to check the expiry and use by that date, reminds Carroll.

Similar to if you have bought items with cash or card and not a gift card, your options with a faulty item are a replacement, refund or repair. With a change of mind, it’s up to individual store policy.

Read more: ‘I bought a coat online but the zip is broken’: An expert explains what your rights are

Lots of us often shop online but most don’t know our rights – so, what should we know? 

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Hannah Popham

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